Monday, March 26, 2007

More public domain treasures

In late February, we examined several box sets in Mill Creek Entertainment's 50 Movie Pack series, a great budget-priced series of collections of public domain films that contain a surprising number of gems. Here's a look at a few more:
Drive-In Movie Classics 50 Movie Pack: Of all the boxes in the series, this one ranks as one of our top 3 favorites. The majority of the films are mainly from the '70s and '80s, meaning nearly all of them are in color. These are pretty much schlocky classics, mixing in horror, blacksplotation, with a little touch of blood or nudity as befits films from those years. A few of the titles: "Vengeance of the Zombies," "Voodoo Black Exorcist," "Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride," "Snowbeast," "The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Women" and "Beast From Haunted Cave." Our favorite, though, is "Invasion of the Bee Girls," in which government researchers discover a female insect expert is using a process to give women bee-like qualities and then the women are killing men with sex. No, we're not making that up. Actors include Richard Burton, Carroll Baker, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Ursula Andress, and Mickey Rooney. Fun stuff. (12 discs.)
Comedy Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection: A nice sampling of comedy stretching from the days of silent films through recent times is collected here, including work by Fatty Arbuckle, solo Stan Laurel, Laurel and Hardy, the Keystone Cops, Harold Lloyd, Our Gang, Buster Keaton, the East Side Kids, James Cagney, Jimmy Durante, Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Pat O'Brien, Mickey Rooney, Carole Lombard, Laurence Olivier (in "As You Like It") and Peter Sellers. The real vintage stuff makes this one worth it.
Hollywood Legends 50 Movie Pack Collection: Star power drives this solid collection of films of varying quality that movie fans can enjoy just for the casting, if not for the film itself. Stars include Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (in "Road to Bali," not one of the standouts from the "Road" series but not bad, either), Greta Garbot, Fred MacMurray, Susan Hayward, Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Sinatra ("The Man With the Golden Arm"), Claudette Colbert (the charming "I Cover the Waterfront"), Jane Mansfield, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Merle Oberon, Gregory Peck, Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis.
All Stars 50 Movie Pack Collection: A collection of TV movies with some good, but most just OK. Still, a distingused list of actors is featured here in starring roles: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Martin Sheen, Lynn Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Michael Landon, Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Sissy Spacek, Sally Field, David Janssen, John Forsythe, Andy Griffith, Susan Sarandon and John Houseman. For the price, not a bad pickup if you are fans of some of these actors.
Nightmare Worlds 50 Movie Pack Collection: This one is one of our favorites because it's a time trip back to the old Saturday matinee days and has some of the best examples of the campiest sci-fi films ever. The three Ken Utsui films in the set ("Evil Brain From Outer Space," "Attack From Space" and "Atomic Rulers of the World") are the highlights. All feature a costumed hero named Starman and have some of the worst dialogue and special effects you'll ever see. Also included is a Flash Gordon film with Buster Crabbe ("Purple Death From Outer Space"), plus Grant Williams of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in "The Doomsday Machine," Wallace Beery in the silent film "The Lost World", plus films with Bela Lugosi ("The Phantom Creeps," "Shadow of Chinatown"), Gene Autry (in "Radio Ranch"), Rock Hudson, William Boyd, Fred Williamson, Cameron Mitchell, Anthony Perkins and Stacy Keach. Break out the popcorn. This one's a big winner.
Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection: This collection of "Creature Features" campy sci-films includes such lovely titles as "Drive-In Massascre," "I Bury the Living," "Oasis of the Zombies," "The Milpitas Monster," "Lady Frankenstein," "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," "Dr. Tarr's Torture Jungle," "Silent Night, Bloody Night" and "War of the Robots." Mystery Science Theater films without the added narration. They don't make them like this anymore. Thank goodness.
Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection: The traditional sci-fi fan will find a lot to like in this collection. Included are Lon Chaney Sr. in "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Max Schreck's "Nosferatu," George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," John Barrymore in "Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde," Gustav Frohlich's landmark "Metropolis" plus films with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Fay Wray and J. Carroll Naish. A great way to get a bunch of film classics in one collection.

There are still more of these Mill Creek sets we haven't covered and we'll catch up with more in a future column. For the most part, though, we recommend these. They're inexpensive and the films, which range from classics to camp, for the most part look fairly good, despite their age and the fact they're not studio-quality remasters. The fact is, though, some of these films have been unseen for years (some would say for a good reason, but that's another story). Outside of the fact that the films may include a brief logo, we think the sets are a great pickup and very entertaining. And as we said before, if you're not a big fan of modern-day films, these boxes herald back to perhaps a better time. For the money, you can't beat that.
Short takes: Among a slate of new releases in April, Mill Creek Entertainment will offer Crime Classics 50 Movie Pack (12pc), featuring films starring Edward G. Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Ralph Byrd, George Raft and others.
Short takes: Miami Vice - Season Three and Miami Vice - Season Four: Two more seasons of the show with the sharp-dressed cops. It's more of the same from the first two seasons. Interesting note for John Lennon fans: The song "Imagine" opens the third season premiere.